5 Ways to Minimise Your Digital Footprint Today

shallow focus of photography of computer codes

In this hyper-connected digital world, it often feels like our lives are painted across the vast canvas of the internet

Every click, tap, and post adds to our online footprints, leaving behind a trail of personal data and virtual breadcrumbs.

While it’s exciting to explore the boundless wonders of the web, it’s equally vital to safeguard your privacy and protect your digital selves from the lurking dangers of identity theft, online scams, and cybercrime.

Take, for instance, the infamous “Hi Mom” WhatsApp Scam stories, whereby cybercriminals expertly use publicly available information to manipulate and deceive their victims.At Your Online Choices, we understand that your digital footprint acts as a virtual breadcrumb trail, leading others to discover your interests, habits, and even your deepest secrets.

Important Information: From the photos you share to the websites you visit, each step you take leaves an indelible mark in cyberspace.

That’s why it’s crucial to take a proactive approach to safeguarding your privacy, starting with one essential step—minimising your digital footprint.

By doing so, you not only gain more control over your online presence but also enjoy other numerous benefits, such as: 

  • Reducing chances of online tracking: Minimising your digital footprint makes it harder for websites, advertisers, and other entities to track your online activities. This means fewer targeted ads and more privacy protection while browsing.
  • Enhancing your personal safety: Limiting the information you share online reduces the chances of someone using it to harm you or your loved ones.
  • Gaining better control over information: Minimising your digital footprint empowers you to decide what’s shared and with whom, giving you control over your data and content.

Throughout this article, we’ll explore five brilliant ways you can minimise your digital footprint today. 

Think of it as a digital spring cleaning, where you can tidy up your online presence to create a more secure, private, and enjoyable experience.

1 – Delete Old Accounts That You No Longer Use

smartphone displaying several application icons

When you venture into the vast world of online accounts, you’re often asked to provide your name, email address, and sometimes even a profile picture. 

While these details serve as a gateway, confirming that you’re a genuine human and not a mischievous robot, the trade-off is that your personal information becomes a part of the digital landscape.

Bidding your account farewell once you’re done with it is essential to prevent excess data about you from lingering online.

Think of it this way: your old unused accounts are like old clothes at the back of your closet. You never get to wear them, but they take up precious space. 

The same applies to your digital life. These dormant accounts can be a breeding ground for potential security risks, and it’s better to say sayonara to them before it’s too late.

Once you do so, you’ll be surprised at how much lighter and more secure you’ll feel—no more worrying about potential data breaches from these neglected platforms.

Besides, it’s an eco-friendly move; fewer accounts mean less digital waste, hence a greener online world.

Below are three steps to help you kickstart the account deletion process:

Step 1: Identify Forgotten Accounts

The first step you want to take is to find these exact accounts that you haven’t used for ages. If you can’t remember all of them, there are a few places you can check for your saved login information.

The first place is your website browser (this includes Google Chrome, Opera Mini, Mozilla Firefox, and many more). 

The majority of these browsers today can save your login information for any website you access online, and you can quickly locate the accounts that you’ve saved from your settings menu.

Here are three common browsers and where to look for your account information in each:

  • Google Chrome: Head to Settings ﹥ Passwords
  • Mozilla Firefox: Head to Preferences ﹥ Privacy and Security ﹥Saved Logins
  • Microsoft Edge: Head to Settings ﹥ Profiles ﹥ Passwords ﹥ Saved Passwords

Another place to check for your old accounts is in your password manager. This is a software application that helps you and other internet users to create, store and manage your passwords across different online platforms.

A password manager will help you keep track of all your saved login details and help you to locate accounts that you’ve previously opened. You can go through this list to find the accounts that you no longer use.

You can also search your email inboxes for words like “password,” “welcome,” “verify your account” and similar terms that many services send when you open a new account. This will help you discover accounts that you may have forgotten about.

Finally, check your Google and Facebook accounts. Many applications and websites allow you to sign in with these sites as you create an account.

In case you’ve used this feature when opening an account, check the list of applications connected to your accounts so you know which third parties have access.

To find these applications on Facebook, for instance, go to your profile picture in the top right of your phone or computer browser to open the Menu, then click on Settings & Privacy

Next, click on Settings, and then Apps and Websites. Ensure you go through all three tabs—Active, Removed, and Expired—for a complete list of all the accounts.

For Google, head over to any Google page (for example Gmail or Search) and click on the grid icon close to the top right corner then click on Account > Security > Signing in with Google.

This will give you a list of the platforms you’ve signed in using your Google account.

Step 2: Access the Forgotten Online Accounts

Once you’re aware of the websites and applications you have accounts with, your next step is to regain access to them.

This is pretty simple if you store your passwords in your password manager or browser, or if you have them memorised. Otherwise, you’ll need to initiate the account recovery process.

Pretty much every login page has the option to recover your password, username, and/or email address to let you log back in.

But this will only work if you can still access the email address, or in some cases, the phone number you used to sign up for the account with.

If that’s not a viable option for you, your only last resort would be to try and reach out to the company directly.

Step 3: Follow Account Deletion Procedures

Different platforms have varying account deletion procedures. Some offer a direct “delete account” option, while others may need you to contact their support team. Follow each platform’s steps for a smooth deletion.

Sometimes, companies make it too difficult to close an account and delete your data. 

But the good news is that no matter how difficult it may be to close an account, these platforms must comply with international data privacy laws that give you the right to delete your data and close any online account

Here are a few tips to help you in deleting your data and account permanently:

  • Using a search engine like Google, search for the name of the application or website and add the term “delete account.”
  • Check out JustDelete.Me. It provides a convenient database with steps for deleting various online accounts.
  • Visit the platform’s support website and look for information on account deletion. Also, check their privacy policy for particular details about when they delete data and how to request data deletion.
  • Contact the platform’s support and ask them to delete your account.

Above all, be patient. Account deletion might take time; some platforms may even have a waiting period before the process is completed. 

Note: If you’re having trouble permanently deleting your account on social platforms, we’ve previously covered how to do so on popular social channels like Tumblr, Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, Telegram, and Reddit.

Expert Tip: For some people, entirely deleting your social media accounts may not be a practical or preferable approach. 

Luckily, there are other smart ways to minimise your digital exposure and data sharing: 

  • Limit your posts to “friends only,” as this ensures that only your trusted friends will see your posts, photos, and personal information.
  • Eliminate any personally identifiable information like your saved bank account and credit card numbers, that may allow anyone with access to your account to make purchases.
  • Disable location data collection since this will facilitate privacy protection and limit the potential risks associated with sharing your whereabouts.
  • Remove your profile from public search engine results. This way, you’ll reduce the chances of strangers stumbling upon your personal information.

2 – Update Your Privacy Settings

In the dynamic realm of the internet, privacy and security settings are constantly evolving. This rings especially true for social networking platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Understanding the data you share and with whom is paramount in safeguarding yourself from identity theft, data misuse, and other security risks.

Did You Know: Recently, the European Union (EU) fined Meta—Facebook’s parent company—a whopping $275 million due to data privacy issues. This is after hackers successfully extracted the personal information of over 500 million users of Meta social media apps in 2021.

To protect yourself from such data breaches, research the data protection policies of any service you use to ensure they have robust safeguards in place.

Each platform is like a different world, so take the time to explore their individual privacy settings, which you can usually find at the very bottom of the site’s homepage.

Below are a few tips on skimming every platform’s privacy policies to spot red flags: 

  • See the kind of data the platform collects from you, which is normally outlined in the first section of most privacy policies.
    Most companies will collect the email address you signed up with your account. But if they’re collecting your exact location or images from your phone, this might be a cause for alarm.
  • Search for key terms like “sell,” “partners,” or “affiliates” to see if the company will sell or share your information to third parties.
  • Check out particular tracking technologies like pixels, web beacons, and cookies since some platforms use these tools to gather a lot of information about you. If the privacy policy talks about them, then that’s a red flag to watch out for. 

You can also protect yourself from data breaches by locking down your location

By disabling location sharing, you can conveniently enjoy your online adventures without leaving a trail of where you’ve been.

The method for disabling location sharing will vary depending on the device or platform you’re using. 

Here’s a general guide for common devices and platforms:

Smartphones: iOS (iPhone/iPad)

  1. Open the “Settings” app.
  2. Scroll down and select “Privacy.”
  3. Tap on “Location Services.”
  4. Toggle off “Location Services” at the top to disable location sharing for all apps, or scroll down to individually manage app-specific location settings.

Smartphones: Android

  1. Open the “Settings” app.
  2. Depending on the Android version and device, the location settings might be labelled differently. Look for options related to “Location” or “Privacy.”
  3. You can usually find a switch to turn off location services or manage individual app permissions to access your location.

Computers (Windows)

  1. Click on the “Start” button and open the “Settings” (gear icon).
  2. Select “Privacy.”
  3. In the left sidebar, click on “Location.”
  4. Turn off the toggle switch under “Location service.”

Computers (macOS)

  1. Click on the Apple menu and select “System Preferences.”
  2. Click on “Security & Privacy.”
  3. Select the “Privacy” tab.
  4. On the left sidebar, click on “Location Services.”
  5. Uncheck the box next to “Enable Location Services.”

Web Browsers

Most modern web browsers will ask for permission to access your location when a website requests it. You can usually deny this request or manage location permissions in the browser’s settings.

Social Media Apps

For social media apps like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, you can manage location sharing in their respective settings or privacy sections. Look for options related to location sharing and adjust them according to your preferences.

By following these steps, you’ll be in full control of your location privacy, letting you enjoy the benefits of the online world without compromising your personal information. 

Below are three other fantastic tips to navigate through the maze of privacy settings and keep your online world secure:

  • Conduct regular check-ups: Periodically review and update your privacy settings, especially after platform updates or changes to terms of service. 
  • Delete search history and cookies: Deleting your browsing history and cookies from your web browser will prevent companies from using your data for targeted marketing without your consent.
  • Stay in control of tagging: Tired of surprise tags and mentions on Facebook, Instagram, or other platforms? Review settings related to tagging to ensure you have the final say on what appears on your profile.

Just like you lock your front door to keep unwanted visitors out, adjusting your privacy settings ensures you have control over who can peek into your digital life.

Customise your profile privacy settings so only approved contacts can see your content. Decide who gets a front-row seat to your digital life and who stays in the shadows.

Remember to keep a close eye on which third-party apps have access to your account too. Some may request more permissions than necessary, potentially compromising your privacy. Review these app permissions and revoke access when needed.

3 – Don’t Share Personal Information

Protecting yourself online is all about being mindful of the personal information you share.

Pro Tip: Imagine your social media profiles as a digital diary that could be seen by millions.

While it’s tempting to share personal anecdotes and memories, some innocent-seeming details may serve as answers to common security questions, like the name of your first pet or the street you grew up on. 

Think of it as accidentally giving away pieces of a secret code that unlocks your most cherished treasures.

To protect yourself from potential intruders, consider these proactive measures:

  • Be mindful of details: Generally avoid posting personal information that could be used as security answers, such as your birth date, mother’s maiden name, or your high school mascot.
  • Think before you post: Before hitting that “share” button, ask yourself if the information you’re sharing could potentially compromise your security. 
  • Secure your devices: Ensure all of your devices are password protected and encrypted if possible. This helps to prevent hackers from accessing any personal information stored on them.

Sometimes, it’s okay to lie. While integrity and honesty are essential virtues, when it comes to safeguarding your digital identity, a little discretion goes a long way.

You can provide false personal information, especially in instances where it’s not necessary to share real data.

For instance, while setting up your social media profile, there’s no harm in withholding your real date of birth (DOB). 

This simple step can serve as a shield in case of a security breach, ensuring that your true DOB remains concealed from potential attackers. 

Similarly, using a pseudonym or a fake name in certain situations, like when opening a new social media account, can add an extra level of protection. Just remember to note this name down in case you encounter any account access challenges later on.

Related Article: Why Is It Important To Keep Personal Information Private? A Guide

4 – Limit Data Sharing through Public Wi-Fi Networks

Safeguarding your private information has become more crucial than ever, especially when using public Wi-Fi networks

These hotspots, while convenient, can be a haven for cybercriminals seeking to exploit unsuspecting users.

Watch a hacker demosntrate the security risks of these networks in the video below.

You must limit the data you share on public Wi-Fi networks, and avoid making transactions or accessing your personal accounts. Just like guarding your valuables, reserve these activities for secure connections like your home Wi-Fi.

It’s also crucial to educate yourself about the potential risks associated with public Wi-Fi networks, as this will help you to be vigilant against potential threats.

Some of these risks include: 

  • Data interception: Since public Wi-Fi is often unencrypted, hackers can easily intercept data transmitted between your device and the network. This includes login credentials, emails, and other private information.
  • Wi-Fi spoofing: Hackers can set up rogue Wi-Fi hotspots with names similar to legitimate networks. When you inadvertently connect to these fake networks, you give them direct access to your data.
  • Session hijacking: Through session hijacking, attackers can take over your active session on a website, gaining access to your accounts and sensitive information.
  • Location tracking: Some public Wi-Fi providers may track your activity, location, and browsing habits to serve targeted advertisements or for other purposes.

Just as castles have strong walls, you need to invest in robust cyber security measures such as firewalls and antivirus software to ward off malicious attacks like phishing scams and identity theft. 

With these tools at your disposal, you’ll be protected against digital invaders.

Also, to defend your digital fleet effectively, ensure that all devices connected to the Wi-Fi network have strong passwords. This helps to prevent unauthorised access.

5 – Use a VPN

laptop screen and smartphone screen showing VPN active

Imagine a special cloak that hides your secrets and keeps them safe while you travel the internet. 

That’s what a Virtual Private Network (VPN) does for your data. It takes your messages and locks them in a secret code, so nobody can understand them.

Think of it as your secret underground tunnel that shields your online journey. 

When you connect to a public Wi-Fi network, it’s like strolling through a crowded market. But with a VPN, you’ll walk in the shadows, away from the curious glances of cyber criminals.

And when it comes to minimising your digital footprint, there are endless benefits of having a VPN in your arsenal: 

  • Encrypting your internet traffic, making it nearly impossible for anyone, including hackers and cybercriminals, to intercept and decipher your data.
  • Masking your IP address, making it much harder for websites and online services to track your location and link them back to your real identity.
  • Shielding your data from potential threats on public Wi-Fi networks, reducing the chances of falling victim to data breaches or identity theft.
  • Providing a secure and encrypted connection for transferring sensitive files or accessing company networks, ensuring that data remains confidential and protected.

However, it’s important to note that while VPN use is legal in many countries (including Australia, Netherlands, Italy, and Iceland), certain countries such as North Korea and Oman have entirely banned its use. 

Other countries, like Egypt and India, permit only the use of government-approved VPNs, in which users can still be monitored by government authorities.So, always check local laws and regulations to ensure VPN usage is lawful in your area. You can also do so by searching online “is VPN usage legal in (name of your country)?”

Bonus: Check out our list of The 6 Best Countries For VPN Connections While Browsing.

Remember, not all VPNs are created equal. Some may fall short in terms of security or privacy policies. 

That’s why you must conduct thorough research before choosing a VPN to find a reputable provider that offers strong data encryption and trustworthy policies.

Check out our VPN Reviews page to find an in-depth review of some of the best VPNs in the market.

Despite a few potential drawbacks, the advantages of having a reliable and secure VPN far outweigh the risks

By employing a reputable VPN, you gain peace of mind and enjoy the digital world with confidence, knowing your data is protected at all times.

Secure Your Digital Footprint for a Better Tomorrow

In this ever-evolving digital landscape, the power to safeguard our online presence lies firmly within our hands. 

By embracing the art of minimising our digital footprint, we can navigate the vast virtual realms with confidence and security

The table below illustrates the compelling benefits that come with minimizing your digital footprint, showcasing how these advantages can significantly improve your online experience and personal security.

Enhanced Online PrivacyBetter control over personal information
Reduced Cybersecurity RisksLower risk of identity theft and breaches
Less Targeted AdvertisingFewer irrelevant ads and increased privacy
Improved ReputationMaintain a positive online image
Peace of MindReduced stress from online exposure

Armed with insights from this article, you’ve unlocked the door to digital empowerment. Whether it’s deleting unused accounts, reviewing privacy settings, or embracing the power of VPNs, each action contributes to a stronger, safer digital presence.

So, don your digital armour and step boldly into the future, where a world of enhanced privacy and control awaits.

Dale Williams

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